On-demand transportation is a boon for small towns
Historically, too many small towns have been left out of the public transit conversation. Fixed-route services such as rail or bus, and other forms of dedicated transportation options such as microtransit, can be prohibitively expensive for small communities to operate and sustain long-term. The City of Kyle in Texas faced similar challenges and partnered with Uber to provide a highly accessible transit option for its small but growing population.
A city on the rise
Kyle is fast growing city about 20 minutes southwest of Austin, the state capital. Kyle’s population nearly doubled in the last decade, from 28,000 in 2010 to almost 52,000 in 2021. Recently, Amazon moved into Kyle Crossing Business Park and has created more than 1,130 full-time and part-time jobs. This, among other socioeconomic factors, has contributed to the city’s rapid population, economic growth, and quickly changing landscape.
Says Jerry Hendrix, Kyle’s Interim City Manager: “When I arrived 16 years ago, Kyle’s population was about 20,000 and there was no traffic light. The growing town knew it needed a transportation alternative, but that change is hard.”
Kyle, like many cities and small towns on the rise in Central Texas, can be characterized as a low-density, reasonably affluent, family-oriented town, with many people owning cars. These characteristics make it difficult for city managers to provide traditional public transportation services for citizens that really benefit from it.
Uber Kyle $3.14
Every time the City explored a new public transportation option, they found it to be overly expensive and/or limited in coverage and therefore not sustainable. After years of searching for the right partner, the City found a fit with Uber Transit. By leveraging the Uber platform already available in the city, Kyle could provide an affordable choice that allows riders the freedom to travel within City limits whenever and wherever they want.
By moving away from a transportation philosophy centered on dedicated vehicles and moving toward a model that capitalizes on alternative services, Kyle has done more with less. The Uber Kyle $3.14 service provides subsidized transportation options to Kyle residents and visitors. It costs the City the same as or less than traditional transportation services, which would have only served a fraction of the city’s population and geographic area. The rider fare is a unique $3.14 because Kyle is affectionately—and officially—known as the Pie Capital of Texas, where, the City says, “all things pie or Pi reign supreme.”
How it works
To drive awareness of the City of Kyle’s informative app, residents and visitors are required to use it to claim the subsidy with Uber each month. Once riders accept the voucher within the City of Kyle app, it is activated in the rider’s account within the Uber app. The rest of their experience is identical to requesting any trip with Uber: select a destination and get connected to a driver. If the trip qualifies for the subsidy, the discount will appear and be applied.
City of Kyle app showing the Uber Kyle $3.14 program
For eligible trips within city limits, riders pay the first $3.14 and receive a subsidy of up to an additional $10. Riders are responsible for any charges beyond the first $13.14 ($3.14 fare + $10 subsidy).
While most trips are fulfilled by drivers on the Uber app, for riders with disabilities, the City provides access to on-demand transportation in wheelchair-accessible vehicles (WAVs) through a contract with Maruti Transportation Group, a local paratransit provider. Riders who require a WAV can select MT Connect, the WAV option within the Uber app, or request a ride by calling the MT Connect call center. Providing MT Connect service within the Uber app is made possible through a technology integration between Uber and Maruti. The same price rules apply for trips fulfilled using standard and accessible vehicles.
How it’s going
Once the program was established, getting the word out to the public was the most important task. Kyle staff used every method available, including a PR campaign that led to news stories. The City found that social media, especially Facebook, and word of mouth were particularly effective in informing people.
Despite launching the Uber Kyle $3.14 program during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has experienced healthy growth. In October 2021—just one year after launch—the program expanded from the initial limit of 8 trips per month to the current 10 trips per month. After receiving several requests from veterans and other citizens who have no other dependable local public transportation option, the City also expanded the program to select locations outside its limits. The program now subsidizes 1 round-trip per month from Kyle to the Austin Veterans Administration for $3.14, and 2 one-way trips per month to or from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport for 31.4% of the ride cost.
By the numbers
- Number of trips on Uber: 1,571
- Active riders on Uber: 418
- Average trip distance on Uber: 5.7 miles
- Average subsidy city pays: $8.11
- Average wait time on Uber: 11 minutes
- Within city limits, plus trips to Austin Veterans Administration and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport
- Within city limits: $3.14, up to 10 one-way trips per month (up to $10 subsidy per ride, the rider pays first $3.14 and anything over $13.14)
- Austin-Bergstrom International Airport: 31.4% off, up to 2 one-way trips per month
- Austin Veterans Administration: $3.14, up to 1 round-trip per month
Advice to other transit agencies
The City of Kyle, which considered several other providers before choosing Uber Transit, emphasizes the importance of finding the right partner. One key was finding a partner that could help them remain ADA compliant by providing a Rider’s Choice program. In Kyle, innovation is something the city is built on; “Leading Edge” is one of its core values. Other cities and small towns that are experiencing growth the way Kyle is could explore new transportation service delivery options that make better use of existing non dedicated resources.
The triple bottom line: look for transportation options that meet the needs of residents today, improve accessibility, and contain costs.
“I don’t know why more [cities/agencies] don’t adopt this. If you have a bus system, you have to pay for a large system whether or not people are using it.” —Jerry Hendrix, Interim City Manager, Kyle, Texas
Many small towns struggle with the funding and ridership demand needed to provide traditional transit services, leaving locals and visitors with few options for getting around. While Uber is not the end-all, be-all solution, Uber Transit can be a practical partner for emerging cities where public transportation is not yet available. Providing accessible and stress-free transportation is an important growth lever for all cities and is one way local governments can address job insecurity in their communities.
Additionally, a study by EBP US (formerly Economic Development Research Group) found that out-of-town visitors take 11.6% of Uber trips in the US, 26.7% of visitors report spending more during their stay because using Uber enabled them to visit additional locations, and 14% of US Uber trips let riders see destinations they couldn’t access without Uber. So if you envision your city becoming the next “[Insert noun here] Capital,” consider how Uber might fit into your city fabric.
*October 1-31, 2022.
If you are a mobility manager interested in harnessing Uber’s technology please visit uber.com/transit for more information.